Eastern Europe causes a leap in quality in the USEC: from revisionism to reformism.
Nowadays, the ex-USEC still calls itself the ‘Fourth International’, but it has ceased to be Trotskyist. It has abandoned the revolutionary program of seizing of power, of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The course from revisionism to reformism was completed after the processes of the East, which they characterized as a profound defeat of mass movement, which began a “crisis” in the “socialist project.”
In this way, the ex-USEC took a “leap” from a “revisionist” organization to reformism: apart from explicitly eliminating the strategy of proletarian dictatorship from its program, everything is oriented by bourgeois democracy, or by the “radicalization of democracy”. They even abandoned the conception of centrality of the working class in the revolutionary process. With the loss of reference due to the East, they came to act as Social Democrats or Stalinist reformist parties.
The Experience of Brazil
In this sense, what happened in Brazil illustrates this process. The USEC was present in the formation of the PT in the 1980s through DS (Socialist Democracy). Regarding Lula’s leadership, they characterized it as classist or even revolutionary and followed in its footsteps as a left wing, in fact, an opposition. It was not entryism for them; it was a participation in a strategic party. Already in the 90s, DS was growingly integrated to the PT apparatus. The more it elected parliamentarians and mayors, the more they integrated and their cadres became part of the party apparatus and the bourgeois state.
They came to see as tactical the participation in bourgeois governments, such as Lula’s government in Brazil. When Lula took over the federal government in 2003, DS, which was then Brazilian section of the USEC, appointed ministers such as Miguel Rossetti and a number of cadres for government functions.
From Porto Alegre’s city hall, they were the local conductors of PT’s ‘social policies’, which were similar to those that the Social Democracy had applied before.
The result was that DS eventually moved away from the USEC and only a small number of cadres formed a new group that remained in the USEC, they went to PSOL and then went through new splits. Once again considering the PSOL as a strategic party.
A “Change of Epoch”
The Eastern processes meant, for the vast majority of the left, the beginning or deepening of theoretical, programmatic, and political bankruptcy. Influenced by Stalinism and its variants – for which, as an apparatus, evidently the end of the USSR meant a historical defeat – in different measures and with different tones, almost all the left wept the “end of real socialism”, the epilogue of the “socialist block”, etc. In this way, they were even more exposed to the effects of imperialism’s brutal ideological campaign on the “death of socialism” and the “invincibility” of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. The case of the ex-USEC was not only different, but it was the theoretical vanguard of this process.
For the ex-USEC, the fall of the Berlin Wall generated nothing less than a “change of epoch”. Daniel Bensaïd, the main theoretician of this current after Mandel, said so in written report was presented to the Fourteenth Congress of the SU in July 1995. In this text, Bensaïd defined the character of the changes brought about by the end of the USSR as a “big world transformation “, specifically as a” change of epoch.” It stands out that it does not speak of “period” or “stage” but of “historical epoch”. Concretely, for the ex-USEC, the epoch defined by Lenin as of “wars, crises and revolutions” that began with World War I and the Russian October – which Marxism understands as a revolutionary epoch, the imperialist epoch – was finished. It had given way to a different one: “We are not in the political period of 1968, we have not left the long depressive wave and we are at the end of an epoch, opened by World War I and the Russian Revolution” (Bensaid’s report in the 1995 congress).
The new “epoch” not only questioned everything but for Bensaïd it meant a setback for working-class movement of almost a century, identifying the “starting point” of the Marxists before 1914:
[…] the laboratory that opens is of an amplitude comparable to that of the beginning of the century, where the theoretical and political culture of the labor movement was forged: analysis of the debate on imperialism, on the national question, strategic debate on reform and revolution, battle over the forms of political, social, parliamentary organization.
This “new era” would be essentially defensive, because, according to Bensaïd, the deepening defeat of the workers’ movement was inaugurated: the “dismantling of the Soviet Union without leading to a political revolution.” In this way, the “social weakness of the workers” and the “crisis” of the “socialist project” were presented as traits for an entire epoch.
He attributed these unfavorable “world balance of powers” not to objective factors but to subjective elements, such as the ideological setback of the workers’ movement due to the “deep effects of the crisis of” real socialism. We alert on Bensaïd’s methodological criterion: he does not see that a long period of development of the productive forces of capitalism was beginning, which would make it possible to obtain lasting reforms and raise the quality of life of the masses. Not at all. Bensaïd said that he considered reactionary the new epoch due to the “backsliding in consciousness” and the “crisis of the labor movement“, that is, subjective elements.
“The changes in global political relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War took the last blow, causing a crisis, not situational, in the forms of radical anti-imperialism of the previous phase […] Now, the international dominant tendency is the weakening of social movements (beginning with labor movement)… The revolutionary left is now more pulverized and weakened than five years ago… For the reconstruction of a revolutionary project and of an International, we start from worse conditions.”
He does not point out the importance of the destruction of the counterrevolutionary Stalinist world apparatus in the hands of Soviet masses. This colossal fact does not even exist in Bensaïd’s analysis. Most importantly, he does not blame the old Stalinist bureaucracy for the restoration of capitalism in the former USSR. He speaks of a political-ideological “defeat” or “setback” of the labor movement. The ex USEC thus responded to the great problem of who, when and how capitalism was restored, in tune with the widows of Stalinism: blaming the “limits” of the working masses, instead of the Thermidorian and totalitarian bureaucracy of the Kremlin.
The historical tendency of the ex-USEC to adapt and capitulate to the great apparatuses and the “general opinion” of the left in decisive moments in history led them to join the sad chorus of regrets filled with nostalgia of Stalinism.
The Program of the “New Epoch”
All of this serves to justify a major change in the programmatic framework. For Bensaïd and the USEC today the socialist revolution is not posed.
The “new epoch” demands, in Bensaïd’s words, a “programmatic redefinition”, “building a new program”. This is not a problem in itself. Any major change, in reality, requires a programmatic update. The problem of the ex-USEC was the theoretical premises from which they began to elaborate this “new” program and the method used to construct it.
Bensaïd and the former USEC assumed that the fall of the USSR meant an “eclipse of strategic reason.” Everything was “questioned” and they were free to leave behind any Trotskyist legacy. Thus, they abandoned the Trotskyist method of elaborating the program from the objective needs of the working class to absolutize the subjective element: the consciousness of the masses. This way they began to subordinate the program to the “balance of powers” which, in turn, express this “backwardness” of the mass consciousness.
Consistent with the characterization of the end of the epoch of crisis and of revolutions opened in 1914, and the new epoch marked by setbacks, the problem of power was set aside for an uncertain future because the masses would not see it as “immediate.”
In this context, the conclusion they drew was to “adapt” the program to this new epoch without revolutionary possibilities. Bensaïd even proposed, in his text, the “new” post-East programmatic orientation. In Europe, the historical center of the USEC, the strategic objective became the struggle for “a social and solidary Europe”, “a peaceful and solidary Europe” as opposed to “financial and antidemocratic Europe.” Something very similar to the current formulations of most of the European left.
After describing the end of the USSR, the “new institutions” of “globalization”, the problem of “productive restructuring”, etc. in the new unipolar order, Bensaïd proposed a completely reformist vision. A program along the lines of the liberal concept of ” universal citizenship “and the utopian “democratization” and “humanization” of capitalism, ideas very widespread in spaces such as the World Social Forums and different NGOs:
“Another form of cooperation and growth on the planet can be conceived: international regulatory bodies replacing the World Bank / IMF / WTO / G-7; organisms to promote international trade among countries with similar productivity; planned transfer of wealth from countries that have accumulated it for centuries in detriment of poor countries; new mechanisms of regulation of exchanges that allow differentiated development projects, partial and controlled disconnection of world market and a correct price policy; a migratory policy negotiated in this context “(quotations taken from the text” a change of epoch “).
As part of the idea of a “regulated” and “negotiated” world at the time “to reformulate the first contours of a proposal that leads to a challenge to the whole of the established order,” Bensaïd continues to state the central points of what he calls “the transitional program”. However, the reader may realize that the content of such a program is only a minimal social democrat program based on the concept of “citizenship”, civil rights (within the bourgeois state) and marked by the complete absence of any anti-capitalist measures. So when they talk about the program, they refer to the fact that today’s transitional program is … a reformist program!
This framework can be used for everything except to establish a program for a revolutionary party and an international that identifies itself as Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International.
What is the USEC today?
Despite using the name ‘Fourth International’, the international organization and the USEC parties function opposite to the 1938 Fourth’s program and statutes, as they are a loose federation of reformist and centrist parties and movements. They have lost strength in the last decades, due to its political turn as reflected in its last congress in 2018, with a significant drop in the number of militants. Today they serve as a meeting point for groups, leaders, or left intellectuals who moved away from revolutionary standings and evolved to the right after the collapse of Stalinism due to the Eastern Europe processes. But its elaborations have international influence and serve today to justify theoretically the capitulation of the immense majority of the left to bourgeois democracy and reformism. As is typical of reformist organizations, the political references of the current USEC are their parliamentarians or party leaders such as in the Bloco de Esquerda or “Podemos”.
The USEC was one of the main ideologues and promoters of the “broad” and “anti-capitalist” parties, in fact with a reformist program, especially in Europe (the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda, the Spanish “Podemos” and others).
Its most important organization, the French Revolutionary Communist League was dissolved to found the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in 2009 with a reformist program, by explicitly abandoning the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
They also have parties and movements in Asia such as the Pakistani LPP that evolved from Trotskyism to a broad-based reformist party of the Europeans. Their Italian group, Sinistra Critica, with its historical leader Livio Maitan, who played an important role in the USEC, and who practiced entryism without differentiation in Communist Refoundation, even had parliamentarians, including a senator, and accompanied the failure and the decay of Refoundation due to their support of the bourgeois government of Romano Prodi. Today after a significant drop in its membership, Sinistra Critia is divided into two and the USEC in Italy is reduced to a handful of militants without real intervention in the movement.
In France, the USEC includes both the NPA (most of it, since some sectors are not part of the USEC) and Anti-capitalist Left, a current that broke with the NPA in 2011-12 to join the Left Front led by Jean Luc Melenchon.
But they did not make any critical assessment of the successive decadence of their most important parties. For them, these failures are due to the “crisis of the socialist project”, of the “backward movement of the consciousness of the masses”.
Worse still, they are increasingly moving towards dissolution and adaptation to bourgeois democracy. They have been further advancing in this dynamic and today they even accept lower programs than they initially accepted in the broad parties. Their last congress confirmed the orientation of the last years. The ex-USEC, armed with its post-East elaborations, has become an enthusiastic promoter of the neo-reformist parties, accepting their programs that no longer advocate socialism, not even on festive days. They only defend bourgeois democracy and are directly pro-imperialist. This is the case of PODEMOS (where they also dissolved their Anti-capitalist Left party); the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda, where they composed a very important force and also dissolved; or Syriza in Greece. In Greece, the support of DEA continued even after Syriza had reached office and submitted to the European Union, despite the fact that its Greek section, OKDE-Spartacus, was in ANTARSYA and against that policy. Later, they were forced by Tsipras’s betrayal to support the exit of DEA of Syriza, but they did not make a serious balance and continue to apply the same disastrous policy in Portugal and the Spanish state.
The militants of the USEC no longer hold the concept of “anti-capitalist” for the formation of these parties. “Anti-austerity” suffices.
In Portugal, the USEC leaders are the backbone of the Bloco de Esquerda leadership. The Bloco supported the Socialist Party – the old Portuguese socialist party – which wore out when its former prime minister Socrates was prosecuted and imprisoned – so that it could form a government. It is defending in Portugal the bourgeois government of Antônio Costa of the PSP, arguing that he accepts minimal “anti-austerity” measures against the “right”. But this government, known as the ‘Geringonça’, can only maintain itself because it is based on the support of the Bloco and the Portuguese Communist Party. It is not anti-austerity, nor will it be as it submits to the European Union and its dictates. Most recently, in its resolution of the national leadership, the Bloco defined a policy of budget compromise. Their own leadership informs that the PS makes budgets within the framework of the neoliberal directives of the European Union, which guide the social war against the European workers.
The resolution of the National Bureau of the Bloco de Esquerda of 04/22/18 simply asks for compromise with timid measures. “Serious compromises. The agreement between the Socialist Party and the parties to its left was based on a compromise. The Bloco de Esquerda and CPP have negotiated successive budgets within the framework of restrictions imposed by the government under Brussels, although they do not agree with them”. It then makes complaints and complaints about some measures such as the lack of competitions, etc. That is, the policy of the Bloco is to support the government of the Portuguese Socialist who, according to them, did not break with austerity, because it did not break with the dictates of the European Union.
“Podemos” went from claiming ‘anti-system’ and no ‘alliance with the castes’ to seeking an alliance with the PSOE, the old social democratic party, and it remains as the bet of Anti-capitalist Left, the USEC group in the Spanish state. The members of Anti-capitalist Left dissolved and incorporated the program and the speech of the leadership of “Podemos”, like Iglesias.
The case of France best expresses the results of this strategy because the old USEC had its most important party here, the LCR. After the USEC implemented the policy to downgrade LCR’s program and dissolve into the NPA, the electoral triumph of the Melechon’s Left Front (FDG) caused a deep crisis. A split emerged to the right of the NPA, the current Anti-capitalist Left, which joined the FDG. This reduced their strength since the LCR in the early 2000s had around 2000-3000 militants and had around 5% of the votes.
However, resistance also appears. Today there is a crisis in the NPA. Cadres from different left currents are opposing the right turn defended by USEC followers. The sectors of the left came to have the majority in the leadership of 2015, with a project that was against the majority of the USEC leadership. The USEC has made great efforts to build a common platform. In order to join the sectors, the USEC did not stand by its policy, and they accepted the NPA to run for president with a worker candidate P. Poutou, instead of supporting Melenchon, who is linked to Podemos and the Bloco de Esquerda. Thus, in France, the USEC tolerates a policy unlike its general policy of support to neo-reformists. Even so, they did not manage to win over the majority in the last NPA congress in 2018, and the crisis remains.
After 8 years without a congress, in 2018 the Congress of the USEC was held. Once again, it adopted the policy of broad parties and the orientation of building Podemos, the Bloco de Esquerda, etc. There was an opposition platform, but it had few votes.
The USEC today no longer plays a role nor has any possibility of being part of the struggle for the Fourth International, for the revolutionary international. Those who still participate in this federation and still want to fight for the Fourth International, increasingly see the need to seek alternatives. For the rebuilding of the Fourth, it is necessary to retake the programmatic bases of its founding with the necessary updates and the same party and international conception as in its beginning. This is the IWL’s proposal.